Omega-3 deficiency - No need to be afraid of fats

from Mag. Kristiina Singer, MSc
on 17.04.2024
Omega 3 deficiency Omega 3 deficiency

Not all fats are the same. Rather, the quality and composition of the fat are decisive. Omega-3 fatty acids, often referred to as "the good fatty acids", keep a lot of things going in our body. They serve as cell components, act as hormone precursors - and even our brain consists to a large extent of them. This makes these fatty acids a "favourite dish" for babies in the womb, whose brain and eye development is supported by a healthy maternal diet. However, a good omega-3 intake is not only a target for the young, but also for the old – the good fats make a significant contribution to maintaining normal heart function. However, the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids do not end here.

Omega-3 deficiency – an overview of the symptoms.

A healthy omega-3 balance keeps a lot of things in good shape. Conversely, a deficiency will become noticeable in many ways. Possible deficiency symptoms include skin problems, hair loss, susceptibility to infections and concentration problems. Inflammatory processes also have an easier time with an omega-3 deficiency.

The impact on…



Impaired flexibility and permeability of the cell membranes


Dry, flaky or excessively keratinised skin, susceptibility to eczema or those with allergies


Short-sightedness, dry eyes

Immune system

Increased production of pro-inflammatory substances favours susceptibility to infections and those with allergies


Concentration disorders, learning difficulties, behavioural disorders

For example, increased risk of

 ADHD, depression, cardiovascular diseases

Table: Possible deficiency symptoms at a glance

The causes – how an omega-3 deficiency develops

The two omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) cannot be produced by our bodies. We therefore have to cover our requirements through our diet. However, nutritional surveys repeatedly show that this is precisely what is lacking. Our usual "western" diet generally contains a high level of omega-6 and saturated fatty acids, while valuable omega-3 fatty acids are neglected. At the same time, this results in an imbalance between the two physiological counterparts – omega-3 vs. omega-6 fatty acids.

An overview of the causes of an omega-3 deficiency:

  • Insufficient intake through diet
  • An imbalance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3-rich foods: not usually a favourite

But why is it that omega-3 fatty acids regularly lose out in our diet? This undersupply is primarily due to the fact that omega-3 fatty acids are only found in very specific foods and are less common in our diets.

Plant-based sources of omega-3 include nuts, seeds and certain vegetable oils (e.g. linseed oil, walnut oil, hemp oil). However, these foods only contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) - an omega-3 fatty acid that must first be converted by our organism into the two active forms EPA and DHA. This process is not very efficient in humans and is also influenced by certain factors.

By far the most effective way of refuelling with omega-3 is therefore the direct intake of DHA and EPA. Both fatty acids are mainly prevalent in oily cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel and sardines. A plant-based source of DHA and EPA are certain microalgae such as Ulkenia or Schizochytrium. However, special products must be used to obtain such plant-based DHA and EPA.

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Similar and yet different: the difference between omega-3 & omega-6 fatty acids.

Depending on their chemical structure, the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) that are essential for us humans can be divided into two families: omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. The human body needs both in sufficient quantities. Even more important than the total intake, however, is the ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.

What sounds initially harmonious degenerates into competition at a bodily level. The two families vie for one and the same enzyme system. If all the enzymes are "occupied" by omega-6 fatty acids, the omega-3 fatty acids no longer have a chance of being utilised, leading to competition for space in the cell membranes.

Wanted: the perfect omega balance

A sufficient intake of essential fats is therefore not only crucial for our vitality – their ratio must also be right. Nowadays, experts recommend consuming omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in a healthy ratio of 2:1 to a maximum of 5:1. However, this recommendation is not so simple in practice, as our lifestyles have changed a lot since industrialisation. As a result, the ratio has shifted in an unfavourable direction and today the average ratio is 15:1 to 25:1, i.e. very omega-6-heavy.

While omega-6 fatty acids are found in many vegetable oils and animal products (e.g. eggs, milk, meat), only a few selected foods are rich in omega-3. An excess of omega-6 fatty acids can lead to an increased formation of pro-inflammatory substances and favour certain diseases, such as cardiovascular disease. This makes it all the more important to pay attention to a balanced omega-3 intake.

We are family: the tasks of EPA & DHA.

The two metabolically active omega-3 compounds EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) have important tasks to perform in our body – but each of them has a slightly different speciality.

DHA is an important building block of our cell membranes and keeps them supple. This fatty acid is found in particularly high concentrations in nerve tissue, the retina and the brain. Accordingly, a healthy

intake of DHA supports our eye function, cognitive performance and learning ability. Even babies in the womb love this fatty acid – a sufficient quantity forms the basis for sharp eyesight and healthy brain fat.

EPA has a hand in a number of metabolic processes. Not only can DHA be formed from this fatty acid, but also hormone-like substances that cover a wide range of functions. Among other things, these signalling substances have an anti-inflammatory effect, reduce blood clotting and have a favourable influence on blood pressure.

Know-how: a more relaxed journey through the menopause with omega-3 fatty acids

Women going through the menopause can benefit from a little restorative support. Omega-3 fatty acids are a valuable companion in this phase of life. After all, when taken in a targeted manner, these healthy fats can have a positive effect on certain menopausal symptoms. In addition to well-described cardiovascular protection, studies suggest a favourable influence on the occurrence of low moods and hot flushes.

Anxiety, mood swings, depression: menopausal women are more frequently plagued by diffuse anxiety, mood disorders and depression. According to a recent meta-analysis, the targeted intake of omega-3 fatty acids is a promising tool for combating menopause-related anxiety and low mood (Grigolon R.B. et al. 2023).

Hot flushes: hot flushes are one of the classic menopausal symptoms. For women who are tired of breaking a sweat, omega-3 fatty acids may be able to keep the unpleasant side effects at bay. Initial studies suggest that the targeted intake of omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the frequency of hot flushes (Palacios S. et al. 2017; Guo P.-P. et al. 2019).

Omega-3 values & daily requirement

Recommended intake: essential fatty acids

No matter how you look at it, Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for our body. However, as the body cannot produce these valuable fats itself, we need to supplement them through our diet – but how much should we consume? Experts assume that the daily requirement of EPA and DHA is between 100 and 200 mg (minimum intake) or between 300 and 400 mg (preferable intake). Other recommendations are 8 g EPA/DHA per week for women and 10 g EPA/DHA per week for men. This corresponds to 1,140 mg and 1,430 mg per day respectively.

Measuring omega-3 deficiency – how to determine an omega-3 deficiency

The omega-3 index mentioned above can be used to assess an individual's omega-3 intake. This value reflects the fatty acid intake over the last 8-12 weeks. To determine the omega-3 index, the red blood cells are analysed for their fatty acid composition. The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are then added together and their proportion of the total fatty acids is determined. Values above 8% are optimal and indicate a good intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Values below this, on the other hand, are in need of improvement and action is required, especially if the index is below 4%. Our tip: Check your omega-3 index right now from the comfort of your own home using the capillary blood omega-3 index self-test. 

The omega-3 Index - a matter of the heart

The omega-3 index is a long-term laboratory diagnostic parameter used to assess the risk of coronary heart disease (especially sudden cardiac death). High concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood are associated with a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease. The valuable fats lower blood pressure and certain blood lipid levels, dilate the small blood vessels, improve the flow properties of the blood and support a normal heartbeat. If the omega-3 index is in the preferable region of > 8 %, among other things: The risk of suffering a heart attack is markedly lower. Survival after a heart attack is significantly extended. The occurrence of sudden cardiac death is up to 10 times less likely.


Omega-3 index



Low cardiovascular protection

4.0 - 8.0 %

Moderate cardiovascular protection

> 8.0 %

Good cardiovascular protection

Table: The evaluation of the omega-3 index

Eliminating an omega-3 deficiency

What can you do about it?

People who suffer from a proven omega-3 deficiency should not only increase their intake of fatty fish, seeds, nuts and selected vegetable oils in everyday life – they should also top up their fatty acid balance with premium omega-3 supplements. After just a few weeks, the extra essential fatty acids can be reflected in an improved omega-3 index. 

How long does it take to reverse an omega-3 deficiency?

 The time it takes to reverse an omega-3 deficiency can vary depending on individual factors, such as the respective starting level and the selected dosage. While some sufferers achieve an optimal omega-3 index after just a few weeks, it can take several months for other people.


"Everyone is the architect of their own destiny". This old truism proves to be true in many areas of life. And so our blood lipid levels are to a certain extent – through what we eat – in our own hands. People with an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency should definitely take their deficiency to heart. In addition to indulging in EPA and DHA in the form of high-fat cold-water fish, nuts, seeds and certain vegetable oils, premium omega-3 supplements are an easy option to make it easier to achieve an optimal omega-3 intake (omega-3 index > 8 %).

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